Prime Minister Hun Sen declared over the weekend that the flag of Taiwan was banned from being raised in Cambodia, during the same speech in which he said the country’s door was open to Taiwanese investment.
Speaking at a friendly dinner at the Cambodian-Chinese Association on Saturday, Mr. Hun Sen took the opportunity to outline Cambodia’s stance on Taiwan, reiterating the government’s staunch support for Beijing’s “One China” policy.
“We should not do anything that affects the respect of China’s sovereignty and independence through shaking hands and stepping on feet. I cannot do it,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
“We need to respect the sovereignty of China, which places the same value on respecting Cambodia’s sovereignty too.”
Describing Taiwan—which is independently ruled—as another province of China, he announced that the country’s flag should not be raised in Cambodia.
“I request to people here: Please don’t raise the Taiwanese flag whenever you are gathering, even at the hotel during Taiwanese national holidays. It is not allowed,” he said.
Cambodia also considered Tibet, an autonomous province of China whose independence movement has a long history of suppression, as part of China, he added.
Mr. Hun Sen told the audience of 4,000 that his decision was a continuation of Cambodia’s long-standing foreign policy toward China.
“You need to understand what this foreign policy is—a policy that has been implemented since Sihanouk’s regime regarding China,” he said, referring to governments led by King Norodom Sihanouk until 1970.
It’s not the first time that the prime minister has gone out of his way to make sure that Taiwan’s official presence here remains minimal. In July 2014, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council announced that it would open an office in Phnom Penh, in a bid to increase trade and investment between the two countries.
However, just a week later, Mr. Hun Sen announced that he would block the council from opening an office because of the government’s strict observance of the One China policy, despite business leaders calling for more practical steps to boost investment from Taiwan. Taiwan first tried to set up a trade center in Phnom Penh in 2009.
Despite the diplomatic theatrics, Mr. Hun Sen made clear that Taiwanese investment in Cambodia was welcome.
“I only agree with doing business. I can do that. For instance, the direct flights from Taipei to Phnom Penh and from Taipei to Siem Reap,” he said.
According to statistics released by Taiwan’s Finance Ministry last year, bilateral trade between Taiwan and Cambodia reached about $744 million in 2015, a 1 percent drop on the previous year. Taiwan’s exports to Cambodia reached $678 million, while imports from Cambodia were valued at $66 million for the year.
On the streets of Phnom Penh on Sunday, it was business as usual for the Taiwanese community in the city.
A 62-year-old retired accountant from Taiwan, who gave her name only as Chen, was overseeing a mart called “Taiwanese Family” for a friend, and said she was planning to move here permanently.
“We can come here to do business,” she said, adding that the flag snub would not affect their business. “Many opportunities are available here.”